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Policy group calls for focus on dropouts

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Nearly one in three North Carolina high school students don’t graduate within four years, a new report says, a rate a statewide public policy research group says is too low.

In a new report, “Missing Persons: Understanding and Addressing High School Dropouts in North Carolina,” the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research analyzes state data on the problem and offers recommendations for addressing it.

For the first time this year, the state Department of Public Instruction measured dropouts using “cohort rates,” which follow groups of individual students that begin high school at the same time, a method the policy-research center commends.

Using cohort rates, the Department of Public Instruction estimates that just over 68 percent of North Carolina students graduate in four years.

However, it does not provide information about whether those who don’t finish in four years have dropped out, are take extra time to graduate or receive some other type of graduation certificate.

Among dropouts however, the research group says most leave school between ninth and 10th grades.

Overall, boys are more likely to drop out than girls, and Native Americans have the highest dropout rate, the report says, followed in order by Latinos, African Americans, whites and Asians.

Family and environmental pressures, including pregnancy and income needs, can pull students out of school, the report says.

At the same time, school experiences, such as the perceived relevancy of the curriculum and a school’s inability to attend to students with special needs, can push them away.

It also is possible the state’s compulsory school attendance age of 16 suggests to some students that it is acceptable to leave before graduation, the study says.

The research center recommends the state continue its measurement of graduation rates through the cohort methodology, but encourages more focus on dropout rates.

To better understand the effects of the compulsory attendance age, the Center is asking the state legislature’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee to study the impact of raising the age to 18 from 16.

And given that the state’s current high school curriculum is weighted toward college-bound students, the research center recommends updating the curriculum to include elements such as internships, career exploration and service learning.

The research group also says the state should require the Department of Public Instruction to evaluate all existing dropout prevention programs and require school systems to develop researched-based programs tailored to the needs of their individual communities.

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